Monthly Archives

February 2015


Sunday retrospective.


It’s February and it’s the first vacances. Ahead of me and the kids are 2 weeks of not getting out of bed at a certain hour nor having to be anywhere at any particular time. You don’t know how excited this makes us. We’ll have time to look around and realize we’ve landed in France! We’ll have time to practice our complaining skills so we fit in! No, we’ll have time to dissect the senses of British humor of the teachers at the new international school, to compare and contrast geography classes and chemistry classes, to recount sights around the rues, and the dog run-ins we’ve had. We can load up on sleep, on talk, on Picard and cafe food. After all, it will take time to absorb the fact that we’re sitting in St. Germain des Pres and not in snowy Canada and suddenly there are weekly Pariscopes, Bach concertos in Notre Dame, Jeff Koons exhibits at the Pompidou, Godard retrospectives and the old Kings and Queens gardens to walk through.

Andrew flies off to Thailand for the 2 weeks during this time, so the girls have friends over for sleepovers, and we get big piles of books from the library and time slows down. We do walk through the gardens and excitedly spy crocus coming up in yellow and purple, and our youngest finds the mix of palms and evergreens a curious mix of seasons. I can’t explain this except to say that Paris is only a few hours from the coast, and she seems to accept this. Neither do I elaborate on the coming fusion of the gardens they will see, they will see them soon enough, the Luxembourg in spring will surprise them with the overflowing flowers, the fountains splashing water, more palm trees. We walk on and see the recently planted violets, the beds freshly tended, and notice dried grapes from last season hanging on the arbor overhead. During the week, we do manage to get out and go see the bright oversized art in the Koons exhibit, and we even check out the Impressionists painters landscapes in the d’Orsay, which has the effect of making them crave hiking. Hiking? They’ve never said that before.

As we walk home from the d’Orsay, I begin to realize that the streets have become filled with places we know. I no longer need to consult my map, or not too often, anyway. We’ve been there before, bought something, met a friend, gone there with the kids. It’s our territory, our city. Sunday the sky is powdery blue with floating purplish clouds that make you think of Fragonard paintings. (see what Paris does to you?) The wind is up, a sea breeze kind of day. The Seine looks choppy. Andrew has arrived home from Bangkok. We walk behind Notre Dame to see if there is any music on the bridge between the Iles, there often is; we cross, hear someone playing sax, jazz of an earlier time. We continue to hear the band from the cafe where we have lunch. I’m telling him about the hiking revelation and we decide to take off the coming Friday and go to Burgundy. Maybe we will hike, I loosely think as I feel the wind blowing the late afternoon light across the water.

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February Field Notes.

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* Walking up avenue Benjamin Franklin from Passy, the dark stone buildings towering over the sidewalks, the chill is cutting through my light black wrap, I’m only half awake, and I start to feel I’ve miscalculated. Then the sky opens onto the Trocadero and there is the Eiffel tower framed in this misty Thursday morning light, and even the trinket shops behind me jingling open their carts, and the few tourists heaving up the steps can’t keep me from saying out loud, “amazing…” and I forget the cold and forget what I was thinking and make this picture.

* The Sunday market on rue Raspail is all organic and it runs from 9am to 3pm. I head there around 11 and slowly start my way up the center looking at all the organic chickens and the cheese stands, but I’m scared of raw cheese, so I never buy there, and then there are the stands around the fountain selling expensive cutting boards made of olive wood and the man who sells the vegetable shaver and is often giving demonstrations to a few people standing watching him shave zucchinis. I try a new stall for no reason except it’s closer and today I’m by myself and I’ll have a bunch of oranges to carry back to juice in the mornings. It’s sunny out. There are dogs. And three year olds in prams. And old ladies with roller carts. The girls in the new stall are busy. I fill several baskets with long celery stalks, green beans, peas, small red apples, an entire basket of oranges. As I pass, the latke guy is talking to customers as he flips the oniony galettes and the line in front of his stall continues off the pavement.

* Four things are running through my head and at the fifth, I collide with one of those low black poles that line the side of the sidewalks and I am knocked back into the present and that has taught me a lesson – to s l o w down my street trot and to not daydream so much while walking.

* Have you ever had absolutely no interest in a topic then taken a tour anyway? The Musee Cernuschi has a famed collection of Asian art which is not my thing at all, until last week when I found myself mesmerized by the Tao tie’s and the Ming qi terra cotta’s as I madly jotted notes which seemed full of the secrets of history and life – the physical hardness of jade symbolized the difficulty of life but the effort it took to smooth it engaged the five senses, take your questions to the oracles and the way the wood cracks the Chinese characters will display your answers, the boddhisattva offers the opportunity to mankind to be enlightened in the here and now, in the Buddhist mind, the realization that nothing is permanent, like the colors flowing in the ceramics, the nature of our relationships is always changing and to accept this, one may find peace. Stuff like that. It was magical and now I want to go back and see that giant Buddha that fills one room, it’s 2 stories high and it looks pretty pleased with its inner self…

* Skye hasn’t had a real walk all day, so reluctantly I leash her up and we walk down the street to get the metro to go pick up the girls. She is easy to bring, but I don’t love the idea of dragging along what’s essentially a big mop that can potentially pick up all the dirt and grime of the subterranean floor of Paris. I know, it’s my issue. However, we jump on the #10 and it’s crowded for some reason, and I’m standing there and Skye is looking up at me with her big brown eyes surrounded by white fluffy fur, and someone gets on the train and scowls at my dog and the lady beside me scowls at the scowling man and again I find myself caught between the French love of dogs and the French dislike of disorder…

* I’m running down my street over to rue du Sevres and I”m super proud of myself because I’m heading to book club and I’ve read the book! Hemingway’s “A Farewell to Arms” and it’s a lovely evening and the sitter is with the girls and I have a night of socializing before me, and I’m heading to an apartment in the 16th and it all seems kinda great and then because I’m daydreaming again, I almost knock over a man in a black drapey coat, big black glasses, white hair, and in a few minutes, I realize it must have been Karl Lagerfeld and now I wonder if he has read the book too… or what he even thinks of Hemingway and all those declarative sentences, because you never know…

*  We’re sitting on the terrace of Deux Maggots, the sun is in my eyes, though I can still see the outline of the eglise St. Germain des Pres across the plaza and sense the waiters passing my chair every few minutes… three hours later, an omelet nature, a cafe creme, the sun is higher in the sky, my leg needs to stretch, I’m saying something but watching a woman write in her book on her small round table, the pen moving across the page…

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Dinner at Chez Rene.

I’d said 7pm but no one rang the buzzer until 7:25. During that 25 minutes, I changed sweaters 5 times. And threw my hair up into a twist and pretended it was a style and not related to the fact that I had forgotten to wash it that day. What were you supposed to wear on a Saturday night for a dinner out on rue St. Germain, anyway? I ended up in a black turtleneck. The tapas was laid out on the table and glasses and napkins, so things were ready. Books, papers, magazines that had been strewn around were now on shelves or in drawers. The bathroom did not have laundry hanging from the line above the tub like it usually did. How could anyone keep up with laundry when there was no dryer. And I’d remembered to pick up something from Picard to feed the girls while we dined out.

The buzzer sounds. I tell the girls to grab the dog who will inevitably bark. She barks anyway. The elevator clinks its way up with the first arrivals. I introduce Andrew to both and receive the nice box of champagne they hand over. I ask my friends husband to pop the bottle we have cooling in the fridge and we get glasses and the bubbles rise to the top of the flutes and flow over and Bob Dylan is playing too loudly thru the speakers as questions go round and Andrew goes to turn the music down. The next two couples arrive one behind the other, the apartment is warm, more introductions and bottles, one friend has made the dress she is wearing, another is running a race tomorrow, I tell them about my writing. Waves of conversation rise as we tell about ourselves and how we have ended up here, in this most beautiful of cities. I eventually remind everyone to help themselves to the Spanish cheese and ham.

We arrive at the restaurant, the table by the door is set for eight; probably for us, I think. Yes, the efficient maitre d’ in his tux welcomes us, takes our coats, beckons us to sit. He doesn’t seem mad that we are late and have added another couple. Someone had looked at their watch at our place and realized we needed to go. We’d then debated the way there, some saying walk, others suggesting the metro. We metro’ed in the end, the reflection of our faces relaxed in the garish green light as the train screeched thru the tunnels of the #10 line, a few of us insisting we exit at Maubert Mutualite, but at the last minute, jumping back on, then all of us exiting the right station, but taking the wrong route along rue du Cardinal Lemoine, not realizing our mistake, until we had to double back.

But here we all are piling inside; the place is full of people along the red leather banquettes, white tableclothes, the waiters deftly circling around in the small spaces, black trays in hand.

Andrew had suggested the restaurant, Chez Rene, his appreciation for the tried and true, for routines that work, this picture of a classic French bistro.  He orders the boeuf bourguignon. I do too. The smell of wine and mushrooms rises up as the waiter places the steaming dish in front of me, and leaves a cast iron pot in the middle of the table with the extra sauce. I ladle more over potatoes. It’s wonderful. Andrew and another guy have pushed their chairs back from the table and are talking. At the far end of the table, someone is pantomiming with their glasses and someone else starts to copy him. They engage in a few series of theatrical poses, one outdoing the other. Laughter. The wind is blowing the awning outside, gusts of air rush in as the door opens and a group of people step inside and the maitre d’ is there to greet them.




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Monday thru Friday.

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The bus is unusually crowded this morning. But it’s raining heavily, it’s Monday, it’s still dark, so no wonder. The girls can’t get their umbrellas closed as the bus doors open. I apologize to the driver as we clamor on, beep our tickets and go find seats, my youngest trailing her frustration behind her. The 63 bus is rarely crowded at 8am and we like that we can almost always get seats facing together, to talk the 30 minute ride across the 7th to the 16th, that and look out the window. We’re in luck and there are three seats together this morning, beside a gentleman. We crowd in. I give the girls an umbrella demonstration and ignore the fact that we’re the only ones on the bus talking. The umbrellas were a gift from their Nana and her trip to Italy and they are still stiff and must be closed with some force. This relaxes everyone and my youngest reminds me to bring her ballet bag later because we go straight to the dance school in the afternoons. I thank her for reminding me and I can tell she is happier now. She can forget her embarrassment over the umbrella. The gentleman gets off at a stop and we all sit back and watch the views of St. Germain, the turn onto the Quai, the long stretch back to the golden dome of des Invalides to the left and the golden statues of the pont Alexandre 3rd to the right, then the bus crosses over the river on the pont d’Alma and we ride up toward the Trocadero with the view back onto the Eiffel tower in the dawn light. I drop them at school. By then, the streets are full of people and as I walk along I can’t help but marvel how wonderful and brave our children are!

Tuesdays I take French lessons at the OECD. Entering the building is its own experience. As one of the largest international organizations, there are smart-looking people everywhere coming and going through the large entry. I love going to my French classes and usually try to arrive early so I can sit in the ‘pink’ cafe and watch the economists arriving for coffees and meetings. For an hour and a half, a Brit, two Aussies, a woman from Poland, and this American try to speak French. The teacher is tip-top and funny; we have a good time and we’re making progress… I think. Anyway, the organization is brilliant and offers clubs and activities for the partners/spouses of said ‘economists/analysts’ so I’m in social hog heaven with those choices.

Wednesdays I try to run with a friend along the Quai. The quai is the area along the Seine, and it is surprisingly spacious down there by the river. Boats? Sure. But there are large plazas, cafes, even a ‘garden’ built out on the water. There are shipping containers that have been turned into small party rentals with dining areas. Under one bridge, is a fancy restaurant and under another there is usually rock music playing from the speakers. Running the quai is a good find though I discovered a glitch one day when I accidently jogged onto the loading docks of a large company and didn’t realize it until I had reached the ‘end’ and there was no way out unless you had a boat. Instead of doubling back, which now seemed suspect and leery, I looked around and not seeing anyone, climbed a fence. I felt like a French spy even if it did take two attempts to hoist myself over. Upper body strength not so hot. Anyways, no alarm bells went off but the next time, I knew to ascend the stairs before the loading property.

Thursday, three of us are sitting in Cafe Pouchkine in the morning. We’d met a few weeks before, and because they are so smart and cool, I’d done my best to wedge my way into their already established gatherings. They haven’t kicked me out yet, so I’m thankful when Thursday rolls around. Paris is a lot of things. We aim to figure some of those things out. Do it justice! That afternoon we go to see a Garry Winogrand exhibit, the American photographer. (yeah, Paris is a lot of American stuff too!) We leave the Russian cafe into a snowfall which we find funny, and try to photograph (unsuccessfully) then grab a metro to emerge a few minutes later into the Tuileries, the snow having disappeared. But the exhibition is fantastic. Afterwards, I step out onto the pavement into the gray cold day, the sound of traffic on rue du Rivoli mixes with the smell of the diesel trucks and I walk toward the Seine to cross the bridge toward home.

Unlike my previous life when things were pretty predictable, and I could kinda guess who I might run into, what I would find in the stores, what the day would bring, in Paris, you never know what you’re going to find. We’ve seen some crazy things, and we haven’t even ventured that far. It’s vivid, and it’s strange. And it can be exhausting – the stimulation, the sensory overload. By Friday, we’re all ready to kick up our heels and celebrate working long hours, vying for space, catching the right train, carrying the load, making it all happen, making it all work, keeping the faith. For the first time last Friday, both girls had friends over. My youngest was showing her friend pictures of her old school and house, and I heard her say, “This is an emotional moment…” it was a funny thing to hear your ten year old say, and she kept repeating it as she rolled through the photographs on the computer… it was her first time sharing all that other life to someone in her new life, and I saw how lovely that was for her, and for my eldest. The two of them with their friends there, talking, laughing…the dog jumping all over them… I asked if they were ready to have some dessert. Peels of yeses as I walk into the kitchen to scoop out the Picard cream and cake.






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